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Surprised silence greets Sfeir's sovereignty call Friday, September 07, 2001
Patriarch's demands downplayed
Reactions to the Maronite Bishops Council’s call on Wednesday for greater respect for Lebanese sovereignty were mixed but remarkably muted, with most political figures expressing surprise at the timing of the statement.
Prime Minister Rafik Hariri did not comment directly but, with an eye on the comatose economy, warned during the weekly Cabinet session that the “delicate regional and domestic situations” should take priority over discussion of controversial issues.
When asked to clarify the government’s position on the bishops’ statement, Information Minister Ghazi Aridi said that the Cabinet agreed it was out of step with recent events.
There’s no doubt that the timing of the statement was a surprise,” Aridi said. “For about two weeks now, the country has been moving toward calm dialogue and initiatives that will harmonize our positions on regional challenges.
Ironically, the statement accused the authorities of neglecting dialogue at a time when Emile Lahoud was taking “practical steps” to oversee dialogue, the minister said.
Well-informed sources close to the president on Thursday said that Lahoud was surprised at the timing of the statement, although there was no official comment on the issue yet.
Berri ‘astonished by statement’
House Speaker Nabih Berri told local press Thursday that he was astonished at “the content of the statement as well as its timing.”
He wondered why the patriarch had released a strong anti-Syria statement, which also criticized many Lebanese political factions, at a time when the speaker was trying to consolidate national dialogue and while the president was reaching out to the opposition.
Other official sources said the move was puzzling, especially since Syria had in general been positive and amenable towards Lebanese officials. However, they suggested that the patriarch might have rushed into releasing his anti-Syrian views in light of former army commander Michel Aoun’s accusation earlier this week that Sfeir was not doing enough to campaign for Lebanese independence.
The editor of As Safir newspaper, Faisal Salman, said that the bishops’ statement completely ignored and in some cases “insulted the feelings” of many Lebanese.
Salman was referring to a section in the statement that calls for the disarmament of Hizbullah, in effect, demanding an end to the resistance.
Mixed response from Christians
Support for Sfeir’s outburst was probably not as the patriarch would have expected, as some Christians close to Bkirki showed little enthusiasm for the bishops’ statement and said that it widened the gap between different political positions.
“The timing wasn’t that smart, especially after (last week’s) meeting between President Lahoud and Qornet Shehwan,” one such Christian source was quoted in the Daily Star newspaper as saying.
Phalange second vice-president, Karim Pakradouni, seemed to contradict himself by backing Lahoud’s policies – including his decision not to send the army to the south – right after voicing full support for the statement, which calls for the army to deploy on the liberated zone.
Meanwhile, the main Christian opposition group, the Qornet Shehwan Gathering, supported the bishops’ statement in general. One member said the patriarch’s move had been expected, especially after the “disappointing” meeting with President Lahoud.
Berri queries timing
One of the Gathering’s leaders, Batroun MP Butros Harb, rejected claims that described the statement as “harsh” - referring to remarks by Baabda Palace sources.
“It reminds us of the problems we are facing,” he said. “The state must deal with it positively and take its substance into account.”
Other Christian sources close to the patriarch told As Safir that the bishops were expressing popular views and fears. However, it was worth noting that three bishops refrained from endorsing the statement.
Aoun: ‘Support words with actions’
The exiled leader of the Free Patriotic Movement, Michel Aoun, regarded the statement as a positive move that should be backed with action.
The only voice to support the statement in its entirety was the banned Lebanese Forces. A source from the LF described the bishops’ statement as “excellent.” The source added that everyone wanted dialogue but not a one-sided one.
“What do we call a dialogue that accuses everyone who has a different point of view of being a traitor and cooperating with Israel?” he told As Safir.
Another Christian politician with good ties to Bkirki summed up the impact of the Bishops’ statement in the Daily Star.
“In the end, it was another Christian mistake.”
Aoun’s Movement Approves Maronite Appeal
The high council of the Free National Party praised the appeal launched by the Maronite Bishops’ Council and considered that the positions it includes are the real expression of the aspirations of the Lebanese people who want a sovereign, free and independent Lebanon. The Party also issued a statement declaring that nobody will stand in the way of freedom or stop citizens from claiming their rights and defending their country.
Boutros: Assad Was Open And Positive
Commenting on his meeting with Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad, former minister Fouad Boutros said that the atmosphere was good and the dialogue with the Syrian President was comprehensive. “Al-Assad has shown a willingness to examine all that could facilitate stability and dialogue, stated Boutros.” Boutros pointed out however that nothing was definitive yet and that other meetings were possible. Boutros stressed upon Al-Assda’s good and honest intentions as they discussed several issues.
Archbishop Dispatched To Meet Detainees
Maronite Patriarch Cardinal Nasrallah Butros Sfeir has dispatched Archbishop Francis Beyssari to Roumieh prison to meet detainees Toufic Hindi, Elie Keyrouz, Salman Samaha, Antoine Bassil and Habib Younes. Monseigneur Beyssari was informed of the detention conditions and conveyed Sfeirs concern about their case. He assured the detainees that he will do his utmost to release them. Hindi, Keyrouz, Samaha, Bassil and Younes were among those arrested in the campaign targetting Christian activists in Lebanon. Most of them are accused of collaborating with Israel.
Executive Magazine Publishes Blank Issue
Lebanese Executive magazine has published two separate issues for September 2001. The first issue includes one page quoting former US president John Kennedy on freedom and the other pages blank. This issue is meant to express the future of the economic situation in Lebanon, should democracy be threatened. As for the second issue, it shows an analysis of expected long-term consequences on the economy, in case violations of freedoms continue.